I've just finished watching the Mike Nichols film Closer and in starting to write about Paul Leonard's Genocide it's striking how similar my feeling are towards both. At it's basic level that means I sort of enjoyed it, there are some good bits, I quite like it but I'm really not sure why.
This is actually a simple story told in a complicated way. The Doctor and Sam land on Earth in the early 22nd century and find things totally changed. A race of horse-like bipeds, theTractites are the dominant species on Earth and in much of space. Realising something is wrong, the TARDIS crew (and one of the aliens) take a trip back in time to try and repair history. In the mean time, Jo Grant and a couple of archaelogists blunder into the plans of some time travelling Tractites who are in the process of mucking up the timeline in pre-historic era as a revenge for a human attack on their planet in the future.
Unusually it feels like an episode of the series when the main characters participation is stripped back to allow the main actor a few weeks off. The Doctor's participation amounts to some investigation, soul searching, running about, soul searching, half dying and arguing with Jo. This champion of time is initially offered the choice between saving the human race or the Tractites, and having to decide who is the worthier. The decision is largely made for him because of the instability of the new timeline and usual bizarre actions of Sam.
Sam Jones. I'm beginning to understand the the writers were trying to create a character with fairly realistic reactions to unrealistic situations. But really -- you have to make her half likeable at the same time. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- at no point do we understand what The Doctor is doing dragging her around the universe. Here she somehow nearly managed to destroy the human race! Perhaps there is some greater plan in motion, there is something about her we're not privy to, something about her future, which we'll find out about in due course -- he's nurturing her towards something. Up until then we'll be putting up with her idiotic questioning of a man who's a thousand years older than her and offering a home big enough for her to park a mini.
Incidentally, this is the fourth novel Sam appears in and I still don't particular have a sense of what she looks like. In The Eight Doctors, Terrance Dick's description is a bit vague; Vampire Science is better: "She was a young blonde with unbelievably short hair and a wiry, athletic body. Unapologetically butch." The Bodysnatchers cops out and so does Genocide. I bit of hunting around the net and I found the photo on the left from an old copy of Doctor Who Magazine of a girl from the BBC Worldwide office who was supposed to be the visual model at least, but I still can't square Kath with the person the book describes. She looks too old and isn't blonde.
The novels are have the unique problem of having to describe a tv series which has characters which exist visually already. So The Doctor is Paul McGann -- we know what he looks and sounds like so we can imagine him in most of the scenes (although he's worryingly emaciated by the end of Genocide so Christian Bale in The Machinist might be closer). When Jo Grant turns up, twenty years older than the tv version you can absolutely see and hear Katy Manning as she is now (although without the baby voice perhaps). I can evenimagine the walking talking horses in here. But Sam Jones? Visual black hole. I've seen other candidates listed by fans. Someone thought of Claire Danes -- in Stage Beauty perhaps with the English accent. Various soap actresses have been cast. Rachel Stevens. A couple even thought of people they know in real life. If anyone has any suggestions, I'd like to hear them.
Anyway back to the novel as hand. When I saw that Jo Grant was 'appearing' I immediately thought of the imminent return of Sarah Jane Smith in the new series and wondered if the approaches would overlap. I certainly hope not. She might sound right, but Jo is entirely wasted here. She's given a son and fungus grower action hippy Cliff is inevitably an absentee father, and much like Caroline in Vampire Science she's never gotten over the short time she spent with The Doctor. She gets precious few moments with him in the end and as I said earlier, things don't go well. Most of her time is spent with the doomed archaeologists and Sam and at no point does the topic of the differences between their respective incarnations come up (although the novel does skip about through about six days worth of their encounter so we might have missed it). Unlike Rose Tyler might suspect, Sam knows she's not The Doctor's only companion but it's amazing that she hasn't looked forward to the time when he drops her off in her own time or some planet somewhere. This would have been the perfect novel to explore that.
Which isn't to say that it isn't a book which takes chances, especially when you consider that the invading aliens are using a time tree that passes by with little explanation. There is a real sense thoughout that not all of the characters are going escape unscathed mortally and morally. In the end, both and Sam and Jo in particular take a real beating in the latter regard at the end when she makes a big decison which goes entirely against what The Doctor is trying to achieve. They part on terms which are entirely opposite to the end of The Green Death, no giant green crystal on this parting. The author seems to wash his hands of her too as we don't see her being dropped off home or re-united with her son, her last mention happens when Sam notices that The Doctor is covering up for his former companion's indiscression to Kitig, a largely friendly Tractite from who's been the situational baromiter throughout the adventure. Ironically, Kitig makes the greatest sacrifice, stranding himself in time so that he can carry out a plan which has already succeeded (simple story, told in a complicated way, remember).
War of the Daleks next. Wish me luck.